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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17061

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Mr Speaker, I seek further indulgence to add to an answer.

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister may proceed.

Mr HOWARD —On 16 June I informed the House that the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies had concluded that at least one of the three vehicle trailers found in Iraq was a mobile biological weapons production facility. This follows written advice to that effect from my department. In the light of subsequent media reports I asked the Office of National Assessments for further advice about the status of the vehicle trailers. They have advised as follows: US and UK agencies are continuing their investigations of the trailers. After scrutinising the trailers US investigators reached an initial assessment last month that the trailers probably are designed as part of a mobile system to produce biological weapons agents. Some features of the trailers are consistent with both biological agent production and some alternate uses, such as hydrogen production. Possible alternative uses for the trailers are among the issues still under evaluation.

Before one of the trailers was found, it had been thoroughly cleaned, presumably to remove evidence of its purpose. It is hard to imagine why Iraq would go to the effort of covertly developing the equipment and of cleaning it if it were for anything other than biological weapons production. Intelligence information is that Saddam had developed a mobile biological agent production capability from an Iraqi chemical engineer who managed one of the mobile plants and three other intelligence sources subsequently provided corroborating information.

I might also, in further supplementation, draw the attention of the House to the comments on this issue made by the defence minister in the British Labor government, Mr Geoffrey Hoon, during his recent visit to Australia—in particular, his comment on the 7.30 Report on 17 June when he said:

I remain absolutely confident that the only purpose for those mobile laboratories was for the production of biological weapons.